Christine’s Story

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Christine is my neighbor. We first met over the back fence about six months after my husband and I moved into the neighborhood. As we began chatting a connection formed, one we had yet to understand. Maybe one anxiety-driven person senses another on a subliminal level and reaches out to grasp pieces of herself in an effort to repair what is broken.

Nothing happens by accident. 

We settled into a comfortable give-and-take conversation, the details of which I don’t remember. The sun set and dusk settled in. Lawn mowers quieted to the tune of cicadas. Gnats agitated our exchange, forcing us to look toward our back doors and the comfort of our homes. We’d begun to retreat when Christine said simply, “I have PTSD.”

“So do I,” I said.

Nothing happens by accident.

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Christine was a dispatcher for a national trucking delivery company where she’d been a long-time employee. Her commute took her north from our small town toward a more urban area. It’s a route known for ongoing construction and heavy traffic. Pair that with impatient drivers who believe a dangerous lane change will make a difference in what time they reach their destination and statistics are born.

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On the morning of Friday, October 13, 2017, Christine was traveling in the right lane. Due to construction, trucks were restricted to driving in the left lane. A tractor trailer took the on ramp and was bringing his truck up to speed on her left. Another truck was speeding in the left lane, traveling much faster than the 50 MPH speed limit. As its driver approached the slower truck in front of him,  he swerved into the right lane to avoid hitting the first truck. Instead, he hit Christine’s Volkswagen Passat on the driver’s side rear door. The car immediately spun out of control and when the spinning stopped, Christine found her car attached to the tractor’s grill on the driver’s side. With the engine just inches from her head, she gripped the steering wheel while being pushed 300 yards. The driver didn’t realize what he had done.

Praying the driver would stop before her tires blew or her car rolled, Christine screamed over and over, “Stop! Why don’t you stop? Why aren’t you stopping?” It was a plea she would repeat in her nightmares.

Suddenly, the driver began violently down-shifting and braking. The rumble from the Jake brake and taxed transmission fixed in Christine’s mind. Disquietude over loud noises is a part of who she is now.

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When her car finally came to a stop, the acrid smell of burning rubber hung in the air. Pumped with adrenaline and fearing an explosion, Christine crawled to exit through the passenger’s side door. Feeling she was about to pass out, she wandered on the side of the road looking for a safe place to collapse. Commuters continued to speed by her, insular in their perceived safety.

Suddenly, a large man barreled toward her. “What happened? What did you do?” he shouted. He continued to batter her with accusations until she summoned what little strength she had to retaliate.

“Me? What did I do? You took me out!”

“Do you have a camera in your car?” He was still intent on finding a way to blame Christine for the accident. He believed it would be his word against hers if there wasn’t a recording. Later, he would lurk around Christine’s car and then beg not to have the accident reported to their insurance companies. Her car was totaled, and he wanted to pay for it out-of-pocket. His hopes of hiding what he had done ended when the state police arrived. He was cited; there was no way to hide the skid marks that proved he had been speeding.

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The driver walked away when a young woman, an off-duty EMT, stopped to help. She called 911 and checked Christine who had reached the point of hysteria. Her blood pressure and heart rate were at stroke level. EMTs  arrived and treated Christine at the scene. The police, emergency personnel, and tow-truck driver all agreed her car, with its steel frame, saved her life. She should not have been able to walk away.

Nothing happens by accident.

A trauma has a way of bringing on a case of the “What-ifs.” A survivor doesn’t think “I’m alive.” Over and over again, in the middle of the night, a survivor ponders all of the the terrible things that could have happened. And, she cries. She reaches for her husband. She calls loved ones in the wee hours to make sure they’re okay. She comes to realize this thing over which she had no control will change the course of her life.

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Christine tried to go back to work but suffered from severe panic attacks. The noise from the trucks where she worked brought her back to being trapped in her car and pushed by a fourteen-foot-truck at more than 50 MPH. She had a nervous breakdown. She was diagnosed with PTSD–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Christine wasn’t and isn’t the same person. For a while she contemplated committing herself. She couldn’t get out of bed yet couldn’t sleep because when she did, nightmares woke her. She had trouble focusing. Completing simple tasks frustrated her, and she became quick-tempered. Nearly two years after the accident, Christine has begun to venture out for more than medical appointments, but at first she isolated herself, afraid to go out or be in crowds. Her heart racing the entire ride, she still can’t drive more than a few blocks.

I understand all of the symptoms Christine has experienced because I have lived them. My trauma will be eight years old this year on October 22. While the event that triggered my PTSD is entirely different from Christine’s, the journey through it is the same. So, I am able to help Christine take some steps toward healing, and doing so keeps me on a steady path to becoming whole.

Nothing happens by accident.

When we go for a walk and my friend becomes anxious at a car or truck on the road, it’s okay with me if we go home and try another day.

When we go out for lunch and my friend feels overwhelmed by the noise and trapped by the crowd, it’s okay with me if we go home and try another day.

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Healing happens slowly. PTSD doesn’t go away. It’s a lifetime of learning how to live with its challenges. And, Christine is learning.

Recently, on Friday the 13th, a day she usually would not change out of her pajamas, stay in bed, and drink, Christine agreed to venture out with me. We drove to a restaurant we’d been wanting to patronize about forty minutes away. The owner is well known for his efforts to help others and take care of his community. The ride is a peaceful one, consisting of rolling hills and beautiful farmland. Christine was upbeat and didn’t panic even when I missed a turn, and we found ourselves on a busy road. We arrived during the lunch hour and spent a couple of hours eating and talking. It was a huge step for Christine, and I am so proud of her accomplishment.

Next week will be the two-year anniversary of her accident. I was happy to hear she will be going to see our local professional football team play. I know she can handle riding on the highway, being in the crowd, and hearing the cheering fans. The best part is she knows it too.

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6 thoughts on “Christine’s Story

  1. We have struggles, with which we try to cope. Some are daily, others happen occasionally. There are some that set us into anxiety/panic attacks or depression. It needs to be understood these are very real situations that might set us back. Thank God for the people who try to help, care for us and pull us through when these things happen.

    Like

  2. As always, sensitively written. She’s lucky to have you in her life; so many think that people with PTSD or anxiety disorders can just get over it, if they try.

    Liked by 1 person

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